Sunday Sermon for February 25, 2018, the Second Sunday of Lent
Readings: Gen 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Rom 8:31b-34; Mk 9:2-10
In the first reading today we hear about Abraham’s nearly incomprehensible act of faith and love for God shown in his willingness to sacrifice his own son. We have to be careful not to read this in a vacuum. This test, which is extreme, was given because of what Abraham was called to do but also because of his earlier failures in faith and obedience.
A person who will impact many people will be tested and will suffer various purifications that are far greater than what most people will have to endure due to the number of people they will influence spiritually. We see this in many of the Saints who founded religious orders and whose books continue to nourish the spiritual lives of countless people even hundreds of years after the Saint was called to Heaven. Abraham was to be the father of many nations and his spiritual impact would affect people numbering the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore. For this reason he not only had to be tested, but had to be an exemplar of faith and obedience for all future generations.
We recall that in Abraham’s past he struggled in his trust in God. He knew what God had promised and he clearly believed what God had revealed, but he did not always trust God to take care of things. In other words, just like us, Abraham took matters into his own hands instead of leaving them in God’s hands. While this happened on multiple occasions, the best known is when God had not fulfilled His promise to provide a son to Abraham, so the great patriarch fathered a son with the slave girl thinking this was how the promised would be fulfilled. The Lord made clear that Abraham was mistaken in his notion and provided in a miraculous way giving a baby to a ninety-year-old woman and a one hundred-year-old man.
Having seen the fidelity of God and the extraordinary ways God would work, and also keeping his own infidelities in mind, God asked Abraham to do something almost unimaginable: He asked Abraham to sacrifice the son of the promise. Of course, God knew that He would not allow Abraham to kill the boy, but Abraham did not know this. Instead, he had to make an act of the will to love God and obey Him, even if this meant sacrificing the one he loved the most in this world.
It is precisely because of Abraham’s heroic willingness to do what was asked of him that God tells Abraham what the larger plan for him was: he would be blessed, have countless descendants, and all the nations of the earth would be blessed in his descendants. St. Paul reminds us that we are descendants of Abraham, not physically, but according to his faith. He is our father in faith.
With this as a background, we look at the Gospel reading which speaks of the Transfiguration of our Lord. While Abraham was given promises by God that he had to accept on faith, Jesus gives us a glimpse into what the fulfillment of His promises will look like. Certainly it prefigures His own resurrection, but it also gives us insight into our own resurrection and glorification with and in Jesus. When St. Paul tells the Philippians that Jesus was obedient to death on a Cross, we can apply to our Lord His Father’s statement to Abraham: “all this because you obeyed My command.”
We are children of Abraham because of his obedience to God, but we are members of Jesus because of His obedience. This makes us children of God and heirs with Christ to all the promises of the Lord. A foreshadowing of what this means has been given in the Transfiguration, but St. Paul, in the second reading, makes things much more practical for us if we, like Abraham, struggle with our faith or our trust in God’s promises.
He asks “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If we are having a problem with faith and trust, we may not be sure God is for us. So, St. Paul reminds us that God did not spare His Son, but handed Him over for us. He reminds us that God acquits us in Christ and that Jesus intercedes for us. Unlike Abraham who proved his love by his willingness to sacrifice his son, God proves His love for us by sacrificing His Son.
Abraham was willing to sacrifice the one most important to him; God sacrificed the One Who is most important. Therefore, as St. Paul asks, will He not give us everything else along with Him? We have the practical aspect and we have the foreshadowing of the promise. All that is necessary now is our faith, trust, and charity.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.